Saturday, February 14, 2015

Live At Leeds
Forty five years ago today, the best live rock album ever made was recorded; Live At Leeds by The Who.  (And boy does writing that sentence makes me feel old).  By February 14, 1970 The Who had been touring almost non-stop for ten months with its show featuring songs from the Tommy album, released in the spring of 1969.  The band was at its peak with the original lineup, Pete Townsend, Roger Daltrey, John Entwhistle and Keith Moon (for more on Keith see Not To Be Taken Away).  Their prior studio recordings had been good but most failed to capture the power, excitement and chaos of their live performance.  THC was fortunate to see The Who twice in this period (May and August 1969) and Live At Leeds is the real deal.

During its long tour, the band followed a set format, starting each show with several non-Tommy songs.  They then plunged into a non-stop rendition of the entire album and closed with a few more pre-Tommy tunes including an extended version of My Generation.  The entire show was overwhelming except for Magic Bus which was a lousy single and it's still lousy on Live At Leeds.

The original Live At Leeds, released in the U.S. on May 16, 1970 contained only six tracks, omitting the entire Tommy portion of the show:
Young Man Blues
Summertime Blues
Shakin' All Over
My Generation (14 minutes long version)
Magic Bus (8 minutes).
Starting in the late 1990s, longer versions of Live At Leeds became available and today the entire concert is available.

The Tommy portion of the concert is entertaining but three tunes really stand out:  Pinball Wizard, with that monstrous bass intro by Entwhistle, Amazing Journey/Sparks with Moon tossing around triplets and adding syncopation on Sparks and We're Not Gonna Take It, the last song of the Rock Opera with its majestic closing chords and inspiring, yet nonsensical, lyrics; that's one of the great things about rock anthems - the lyrics don't have to make sense.

But it is on the non-Tommy songs where the band shines brightest.  Some of THC's favorites:

Heaven & Hell.  The opening song of the set.  Written by Entwhistle: 
Up above is a place where you go if you've done nothing wrong
If you've done nothing wrong
And down in the ground is a place where you go, if you've been a bad boy
If you've been a bad boy
Why can't we have eternal life
And never die?
The music sounds jet-propelled and it is.

For a close-up glimpse of Moon-style drumming this is a YouTube video by a guy called babyshambler who does a fine job recreating Keith's performance.  As you watch think about the sheer amount of energy needed to pull this off.
Young Man Blues.  Written by Mose Allison (a "jazz sage" as Townsend refers to him).  For those interested in rock history he also wrote I'm Not Talkin' (and that's what I've got to say) covered in a terrific version by The Yardbirds with Jeff Beck.  The Who also recorded his Eyesight To The Blind for Tommy.  Here's the Mose original of Young Man Blues.  Now listen to The Who, particularly the middle section.  This is a hard and heavy rock band but they create a pulsating sound, nimbly dancing around the beat (except for a brief and awkward Townsend solo).  Led Zeppelin they were not.

Tattoo.  Very sedate on the studio album, Moon's drums punch up the live version.  A typical oddball Townsend creation with a very funny lyric.
Me and my brother were talkin' to each other
'Bout what makes a man, a man
Was it brain or brawn, or the month you were born
We just couldn't understand

Our old man didn't like our appearance
He said that only women wear long hair
So me and my brother borrowed money from mother
We knew what we had to do
We went downstairs, past the barber and gymnasium
And got our arms tattooed

Welcome to my life, tattoo
I'm a man now, thanks to you
I expect, I'll regret you
But the skin graft man won't get you
You'll be there when I die, tattoo

My dad beat me 'cause mine said "Mother"
But my mother naturally liked it and beat my brother
'Cause his tattoo was of a lady in the nude
And she thought that was extremely rude
Summertime Blues.  A remake of the 1958 original co-written and recorded by Eddie Cochran.  Thundering bass by Entwhistle.  You can watch a live performance at the Isle of Wight festival from August 1970 here.

Substitute.  The Who wrote very few traditional boy/girl songs instead writing songs of alienation (My Generation), of mothers dressing their little boys as little girls (I'm A Boy) and of teenage boys fantasizing about long dead vaudeville stars (Pictures Of Lilly).  Substitute has another unusual theme:
You think we look pretty good together
You think my shoes are made of leather

But I'm a substitute for another guy
I look pretty tall but my heels are high
The simple things you see are all complicated
I look pretty young, but I'm just back-dated, yeah

Substitute your lies for fact
I can see right through your plastic mac
I look all white, but my dad was black
My fine-looking suit is really made out of sack

Substitute me for him
Substitute my coke for gin
Substitute you for my mum
At least I'll get my washing done
A Quick One, While He's Away.  The whole package.  Tight harmonies.  Several different melodic sections.  Raucous but somehow still in control instrumentation.  The highlight of the entire show.  The song had been a staple of Who concerts since 1967 and in December 1968 the band performed it as part of The Rolling Stones Rock And Roll Circus.  The Stones originally planned to show the concert on the BBC but reportedly were so dissatisfied with their own performance and embarrassed that The Who blew everyone away that the footage was not released until 1996.  Here is The Who's performance of A Quick One from the Roll And Roll Circus.  And You Are Forgiven.

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